Date of Award
Doctor of Ministry
Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary
Doctor of Ministry DMin
Leona G. Running
Russell L. Staples
Since the beginning of its mission outreach in Asia and Africa, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been confronted with the polygamy issue. Several attempts made by the church to formulate a unified policy for dealing with the polygamous convert culminated in the recommendation voted at the General Conference session in San Francisco in 1941. This resolution requires that in order to be admitted to baptism and church membership a polygamist must dismiss all his wives save one.
Recently, increased anthropological knowledge has led many Protestant churches in Africa to emphasize the legality of the marriage institutions in various societies. In doing so the theological problem of divorce in connection with the polygamous convert has become evident. One notes from analyzing available records the absence of theological argumentation when the SDA church formulated policies regarding polygamy.
The chief concerns seemed to be church standards, unity, and sensitivity to the social problems caused by the separation of the polygamous families. However, while such concerns are valid in their own right, they are too fragile a basis on which to build a policy that has such far- reaching social and ethical consequences. This project concerns itself with the formulation of a theological basis from which the church can deal with the polygamous convert. Since polygamy is a cultural as well as a theological issue, cultural considerations, anthropological analyses, and biblical principles are all helpful in establishing such a theological basis. The cultural and anthropological aspects show that polygamy is a valid marriage.
However, it clashes with the biblical ideal of marriage as symbolizing God's inclusive covenant relationship with man. The church, therefore, must uncompromisingly uphold the monogamous norm of marriage and its commitment to the ideal of indissolubility as well. At the same time, it must deal compassionately with the polygamous convert who, caught between the claims of monogamy and indissolubility, finds himself in a situation where full obedience is impossible. Here Paul's concessions to a less than perfect marriage, as indicated in 1 Cor 7:8-18 would seem to apply also to the polygamous marriage.
True to its teaching that the grace of God is sufficient to save man in whatever circumstances he finds himself, the church would admit polygamous converts to baptism after careful consideration of each case. Such an eventual change in the policy of the church should be accompanied by an active teaching program and must be carried out in a unified and cautious manner.
Bouit, Jean-Jacques, "A Christian Consideration of Polygamy" (1981). Project Documents. 626.
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